Winners & Losers Championship Round
By Lee Wakefield & Peter Mann
Well, there we have it, the Chiefs and the 49ers will duke it out for the Lombardi Trophy in Las Vegas. Despite there only being two games this weekend, there were still plenty of candidates for winners and losers.
This week we’ll bring you our winners and losers from this week’s Championship round, and next week, we’ll look at some season-long winners and losers as we begin to ramp up our Superbowl coverage.
But anyway… enough of that, let’s jump into this week’s lot.
Winners - Lee Wakefield
In Spags We Trust, read the t-shirts of Chiefs defenders after Sunday night’s victory over the Ravens, and they absolutely should. Spagnuolo has shown himself to be one of the most innovative defensive coordinators in the NFL.
As we discussed on this week’s podcast, Spagnuolo ramped up the pressure on Lamar Jackson over, and over, and over, again in the AFC Championship. Jackson and the Ravens were flustered, and frustrated throughout the game; Baltimore gave up four sacks, lost two fumbles and Jackson threw a game-killing interception. Not only that but they forced Jackson to hold on to the ball for longer than he’d have liked and caused him to miss throws all night.
People often say, “as long as Kansas City has Mahomes and Reid they’re going to be right up there”. I’d argue that Spagnuolo is equally as important to the franchise and if we’re taking a season-long view of the Chiefs’ season, Spags’ defense has been the dominant side of the ball this year.
So whilst Spagnuolo is there, as well as Reid and Mahomes, the AFC Championship really could be the Kansas City Invitational.
Mr. Relevant. Haters gonna hate but Brock Purdy is winning. He is one win away from hoisting the Lombardi Trophy and writing himself into 49ers lore alongside the likes of Steve Young and Joe Montana.
Purdy may make some bizarre decisions and get away with some errant throws but the results, kind of speak for themselves. In 30 career games, Purdy has authored 24 wins to six losses.
Yes, Kyle Shanahan is calling his plays, and of course, he’s surrounded a cornucopia of elite offensive talent. But still, he is able to expend plays with his legs, and put the ball where it needs to be in order for San Fransisco to win.
Purdy might be an undersized kid from Arizona, who was the Iowa quarterback and was selected with the final pick of the draft but talk about grasping an opportunity with both hands! Purdy should be celebrated, not talked down! If Trey Lance worked out, injuries didn’t happen, Purdy would likely be the backup his draft position was meant for.
Game manager or not, if he wins a Superbowl, nobody will be able to take that away from him.
Detroit Lions Fans
Yeah, I know the Lions lost to the 49ers and Peter has the Lions in the losers segment below but let’s be honest, very, very few people had the Lions down to make it to the NFC Championship game before the season started.
Detroit has a fanbase that is united behind its team and Dan Campbell. This year’s team just gave the city their best season is forever and came within 30 minutes of making it to the Superbowl.
We can discuss Dan Campbell’s fourth down decision making – For the record, he was right to go for it and the only questionable call was just before the half. If you disagree then you can tell someone else on Twitter.
What’s more, Detroit has heaps of cap space, very few internal free agents who’ll be leaving and a young core of players who are on cost-controlled, rookie deals for the next few years.
Not only that, but NFL executive of the year, Brad Holmes has been on an absolute tear in the draft and will be making the picks again in April. So watch for the Lions getting better via the draft. Again.
And the cherry on top take just last night when Offensive Coordinator, Ben Johnson announced that he was staying with the team and rejecting interview offers from Seattle and Washington for their vacant Head Coach roles.
I think it’s safe to say, the Lions are here to stay.
Losers - Peter Mann
The Ravens’ Running Game
The Baltimore Ravens running stats, for the first time this season, failed to impress when losing their AFC Championship game against the Kansas City Chiefs.
Throughout the regular season, the running game for the Baltimore Ravens put on an average of 156.5 yards, per game; that same dominance was seen in the AFC Divisional game when they dismantled Houston Texans 34-10 and put on 229 yards.
However, when it came to the powerhouse Chiefs, all of a sudden, they were nowhere to be seen, and the Ravens were left trailing, playing catch-up, for most of the contest, so much so that, whilst trying to cut a ten-point deficit (the Chiefs progressed to the Super Bowl with a 17-10 win), finished with 58-yards on eleven runs – the fewest Lamar Jackson has had during his career.
Looking at those stats for the Chiefs’ loss, in what was deemed as being Jackson’s best chance of a Super Bowl, then Jackson posted 19, Justice Hill 16, and Gus Edwards 13, they being the only ones to make double figures.
In addition to that, Todd Monken just had no answer to Steve Spagnuolo, the pressure that the Super Bowl-bound holders placed upon Baltimore was both relentless and surprising, for Monken.
Monken struggled to adjust his play calls to accommodate and when they did, it took too long in which to come to any fruition, allowing the Chiefs to perform much disruption, before completely abandoning what had served them well throughout the regular season.
To be honest, I don’t want to class the Lions as losers after the season they’ve, on the main, enjoyed. For the time in decades as well. However, against the San Francisco 49ers, in the NFC Championship game, they came up agonisingly short, despite leading.
The Lions led 14-0 at the end of the first, and 24-7 at the half, however, the second half was all about the 49ers, the Lions seemingly just, well, stopped, and that third quarter, when they shipped seventeen points. Dan Campbell will be having nightmares for some time to come.
That nightmare moved over into the fourth quarter as well (think the end of Halloween and start of Halloween 2), when a further TD and field goal saw Kyle Shanahan’s charges open a ten-point advantage, with minutes remaining.
Fourth Downs were a little issue for the Lions, and if they had been called differently, then maybe, just maybe, the final outcome would have been different as well, but, overall, it perhaps boiled down to a lack of experience this deep in a season.
The half was a masterclass against the expectant 49ers, but in the second, they just folded under the pressure – before the half, they ran out some 148 rushing yards, whilst after the restart, that number fell to a paltry, 34 yards – Lions’ focus just fell away, and everything the Lions tried, just didn’t go to plan.
They’ll learn though, as Lee has said above if Campbell can keep the core together – 2024 can be even better if they want it to be.
Feature Image Credit: Gwinnett Daily Post
NFL, CFB & NFL Draft
Lee Wakefield IS A defensive line enthusiast, Chargers Sufferer, and LONG-TIME writer and podcaster with a number of publications. @Wakefield90 on Twitter/X